I saw the show on Monday night, and I will say upfront, it is a great show. Solid performances in general, many an amusing moment, and plenty of subtle verbal and visual gags to keep everyone entertained. Well worth the evening.
For me, I was disappointed, and that is because I am such a fan of Blithe Spirit itself. I was anticipating the Noel Coward wit and drawl, but this wasn’t the director’s intention.
Director Jeffrey Jay Fowler has a rather impressive reputation, and the awards to prove it. Noel Coward’s tale of spiritual love was written for a different time, and some may see it as being a little sexist for modern audiences. So this production is a little adapted to minimise that potential. While I personally do not agree that the play is in itself sexist, I can appreciate the reasons behind his choice.
Regardless, the strength of his direction shows through, with the small cast of 7 filling the rather large stage space to great effect. The direction was most evident in the scenes where the ghostly characters swished their way between other, completely oblivious characters.
It was a preview night, so a little imperfection was to be expected, yet it was a rather polished performance. Projection from all the cast was spot on, even for those of us up in the Circle, and there was rarely any issue with sight lines or masking.
The stage design was extremely generous with no visual dead spots. There was one weird spot front stage right which had an interesting echo when cast spoke from there, but other wise all was good.
All the cast were very entertaining, and there was a lovely contrast between the two wives: Ruth (Adriane Daff) and Elvira (Jo Morris). Ruth being a little more stern and proper vs the flighty and incorrigible Elvira, which says a lot about the tastes of husband Charles (Adam Booth). Adam appeared at the beginning of the year in “Venus In Fur” which I also reviewed.
For me, there were two stand-out performances for the Preview Night. The part of Edith, the ex-army house maid with a speed control issue, was played by Ella Hetherington, and very convincingly I might add. She wore her accent, and character, like a glove. I was fortunate enough to have had the chance to meet her as I was leaving, and she’s just as delightful, sans accent, in person.
The other was an unexpected appearance by Alison Van Reeken, who was called in to replace that same day, the originally cast Roz Hammond, who had fallen ill. Roz, I do hope you are back on your feet very soon.
Alison, on the other hand, with script still in hand, gave us one of the most interesting, and entertaining, Madame Arcati, Medium at large, performances I have ever seen, and after learning the role in less than 24 hours, or so I am advised. Stunning. Poor Jeff was very apologetic before the show went up, asking us to forgive the script. In truth, it almost became a part of the character, and went virtually unnoticed, at least by me.
Rounding out the cast was the Bradmans played by Michelle Fornasier and Michael Loney, the obligatory supporting characters, there to provide a little colour and diversity in typical Noel Coward style. This they certainly did, with their own comic moments of married couple interplay.
So, in summary, I had my expectations set for typical Noel Coward Blithe Spirit, and as such I was disappointed, but that should not detract from what is a good piece of theatre. Those who are fans of Blithe Spirit should go in with an open mind, like I should have done.